A WOMAN loading a pooping goose into her boss' BMW. An 18-year-old girl on a road trip with her older fiancé, his chain-smoking mother behind the wheel. A pregnant woman crouching in the bushes with a bottle of good wine in one hand and an industrial spotlight in the other, listening to strangers have sex. Scenes like these are typical in People Like You, the debut short-story collection from Portland author Margaret Malone, out this week from local Atelier26 Books.
In its nine stories, daily dramas and communication breakdowns pile up among characters who are drifting and unsure, in settings that are notably bleak and all too familiar—a neighborhood with "bored kids and no sidewalks and stop signs that nobody stopped at," a guestroom that's "all bed and no room."
By and large, these are the stories of women given limited options as to what their lives could look like. Most haven't been asked to dream beyond being wives and mothers, and they've almost all ended up with men who cluelessly believe themselves to be Nice Guys™.
Without friends and family willing or able to bail them out financially or emotionally, they exist somewhere between keenly aware and casually resigned. Thankfully, Malone has blessed them all with cutting senses of humor and impossible-to-ignore voices to get us through these stories of everyday disappointment.
"I'm wanting to be nice, but I am driving 70 MPH and talking on the phone, and this is why I don't leave the house," says the title story's socially disinterested narrator.
"I wholly believed with the right combination of patience and forced decency I would become one of the people with tired eyes and a car floor messy with crushed-up cheesy goldfish and a refrigerator cluttered with unintelligible smeary art," says a narrator dealing with a miscarriage.
Malone's writing could be seen as a close cousin to the work of Tom Drury, Mary Robison, or Denis Johnson—stories that casually draw you in and leave you wanting more. People Like You feels like being let in on a secret that won't stay secret for long.